We are constantly exposed to visual content on Internet and in mass media: in the social networks which use this format – like Facebook or Instagram – the digital media which publish videos or even online advertisements. Why is this type of content chosen so often? What impact does it have on the audience and how can we take advantage of it in learning and particularly digital learning?
The characteristics of visual content
Helene Joffe, professor of psychology at University College London, has used the sociology studies on this topic to explain the power of pictures on the human brain and its impact on the memory process. It is highlighted that the main characteristic of visual content compared to textual content is its ability to create emotions for the audience. While a text affects our rational and logical intelligence, a picture takes the audience on the emotional pathway. As an example, a study by Åsa Boholm (1998) showed that the pictures related to the articles about the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster caused more emotional implication and generated more stress for the audience than the textual content.
As pictures show the subject without leaving room for our imagination ability, they have a greater impact: the information described seems closer to us. Pictures affect us more than numbers because they are more real and substantial to us. Pictures are raw, they get to the human brain with no regards for our critical spirit, intuition or analytical skills. Therefore, their power of persuasion is much stronger since people are not likely to deconstruct or discuss it as they would do it for texts.
Neuroscience have proved that visual materials leave a strong mark in our memory due to the intensity of the message received. This means that we have to make sure that the picture has a real impact and is relevant regarding the message to convey. If it does not emotionally affect us, it will vanish faster from our memory. However, if the picture is wisely chosen, all the characteristics described above make it a great learning medium because the information showed will be retained in our mind over the long term.
Is visual intelligence a myth?
There is a tenacious myth in learning about the different memory types: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. We have explained the impact of pictures on the human mind and its role to retain information, but are these benefits more significant for individuals whose brain is particularly receptive to visual content?
Recent experiments have been carried out to confirm this hypothesis that people have their own learning style to better retain information. While each person usually has a preference between the three media, the study could not prove a real correlation between the learning style chosen by a learner and his success acquiring knowledge.
On the contrary, the retention of information is a comprehensive process and using varied types of media will lead to different brain mechanisms, which will make us more likely to retain the information. Therefore, it is essential to diversify the types of content when designing a learning module to maximize the long-term reinforcement of the information in the learner’s memory.
How to integrate visual content to your learning materials?
To enhance knowledge retention, it is essential that you use varied learning media. If most of your materials are texts, you can replace or complement them with adapted visual content to enrich the learning experience:
- Images or photos to illustrate. They make a concept more concrete, affect learners’ emotional intelligence and increase their chances of retaining the information.
- Diagrams and drawings to simplify. Those have a great teaching value. They make abstract and imperceptible information more understandable. They also make the content more gamified and attractive to the audience than just a text.
- Videos for an augmented experience. Videos add temporality compared to pictures. They complexify the information and can display a gesture, a procedure, etc.
As assessing knowledge is a major component of the memory process, it is also important to enrich assessment materials with visual content. Besides, the learner will be more engaged, and the impact will be more significant: in a quiz, a picture can make the subject more real and help the learner visualize the situation.
What about corporate learning?
The retention of knowledge and skills is a major challenge for companies, who look to leverage the investment (in time and money) made for learning and development. Besides visual content, other good practices for a better knowledge retention have been highlighted by cognitive science, for instance: using a quiz (rather than a traditional learning material) to make the learner review a key concept and spacing the reminders over time. With this in mind, the ideal tool for a company to ensure the learning reinforcement is the one which can distribute content in the form of quizzes including images or videos and push this content to the learner with spaced reminders. Today, artificial intelligence can even automate these reminders by adapting them to each person’s knowledge retention ability.
- Le pouvoir de l’image : persuasion, émotion et identification, Helene Joffe, Diogène 2007/1 (n° 217), pages 102 à 115
- Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence, Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, Robert Bjork, First Published December 1, 2009